Julien Neaves, Editor
We are just about T-minus two weeks away from the Doctor Who New Year’s Day special Revolution of the Daleks, and I can bet my sonic screwdriver that most fans are very excited for the return of the dashing, gun-toting, omnisexual, former time agent and Torchwood Three leader, and occasional companion Captain Jack Harkness.
Sure actor John Barrowman made his big return to the show in Series 12 after a decade-long absence, but that was a bit underwhelming (we’ll chat more about that in a sec). Thankfully, from the trailers for Revolution of the Daleks it appears old Jack will be playing a much more prominent role in this story, which is great news for his legion of fans. Here’s the latest TV spot in case you missed it:
So as we all tick off our calendars until January 1, 2021, I thought it would be a good time to do an article ranking Jack’s Doctor Who appearances. Now this list will be restricted to the main show so I will not be including the spin-off Torchwood here. With those caveat out of the way and a Gallifrey-sized SPOILER ALERT let us Allons-y, Geronimo and start ranking!
Honourable Mention: The End of Time Part 2
In the first draft of this list I mentioned in my caveats that I was leaving out Jack’s cameo in The End of Time Part 2. But one of the Facebook commenters (hey Jess 👋) asked that I include it. So here it is in an honourable mention.
I enjoyed this brief scene for two reasons: seeing all those aliens in the bar new and old, which felt very Star Wars, and the interaction between Jack and The Doctor from afar. It is just a couple of looks and a couple of salutes, but it is some fine acting by both Barrowman and Tenth Doctor David Tennant in a short but touching scene. And we have The Doctor adding matchmaker to his many skills — who knew he was a Love Doctor as well — and Jack flirting up a storm with Alonso, though that is just classic Jack.
#6 Fugitive of the Judoon
I was very happy with the surprise appearance of Captain Jack in Series 12. The last time we saw him (outside of Torchwood) was three Doctors ago. It had been a while! From the time I heard his voice on that spaceship I was fully ready for another screwball adventure and highly anticipating his interaction with the new female Doctor. Because you just know he was going to flirt hard with the new Doctor. Jack, you old dog, you.
But then he transmatted in, kissed Graham and delivered some exposition. That’s…about…it. No adventure, no interaction with the Doctor, nada. Talk about a big old tease. That’s like bringing Messi on to play for five minutes and then putting him back on the bench. I’m not the biggest football fan but that seems like an apt simile. If you bring back Jack you need to do more with him than an exposition device.
#5 Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
This Series 3 three-part finale started off strongly but then suffered from the law of diminishing Jack returns. In Utopia the Captain made a dramatic entrance running and jumping on to the TARDIS and then hitching a ride through the time vortex. And of course once he lands he flirts with Martha and Chantho and the Doctor tells him to stop it. Just like old times. The first episode served to explain Jack’s immortality and get him caught up on Rose. And the scene where he uses a gun to frighten the Futurekind and then The Doctor berates him perfectly illustrates how diametrically opposed the two characters are, and why it is so engaging having them together. Utopia also features Jack using his immortality ability to solve problems which was a welcome touch.
But then in The Sound of Drums he has much less to do and his vortex manipulator becomes more important than him. And then in Last of the Time Lords he spends most of the episode chained up. At a certain point it felt like he could have been taken out of the story without making much of an impact. The finale had shown repeatedly what an evil bastard The Master was, so Jack’s suffering didn’t really add anything to that. But the episode did end with the Face of Boe reveal, so what it lacked in story for Jack it made up for it a bit in lore-building.
#4 The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
All the Doctor’s previous (modern-day) companions and good friends returned for this two-part finale, so you know they couldn’t leave Captain Jack out. In The Stolen Earth it was great seeing him interact with his Torchwood team and his love for them was tangible. Barrowman really got to show off his acting chops in the scene when he thought they were doomed and kisses Gwen and Ianto. I also enjoyed his conversation with Sarah Jane, especially the scene when she tells him his work has “too many guns.” Well those aliens aren’t going to shoot themselves, are they Miss Smith? Just ask that Dalek who Jack blasted the living daylights out of near the end of the episode. Well you can’t because he’s dead, but you get the idea.
In Journey’s End things get more hectic so Jack’s role got trimmed down somewhat. We do have him using his immortality ability to escape the Daleks and the running gag of Donna trying to get a hug with him, which culminates with her throwing Sarah Jane out of the way and taking her hug. Hilarious. Also very funny was his reunion with “Mickey Mouse” Mickey. Mickey’s “And that’s enough hugging” line is a classic. So yeah, not a lot of Jack in this two-parter but when he does appear he makes the most of it.
#3 Boom Town
You will notice the final three entries are from Series 1 and the Ninth Doctor. David Tennant is my second favourite all-time Doctor (after the GOAT Tom Baker of course) but Jack was better with his predecessor. This lighter story is right in the middle of two very epic stories and is a welcome breather.
The Doctor, Rose and Jack bounce off each other so well and just watching them together is a lot of fun. A highlight is the scene where Jack starts giving orders, The Doctor asks him who put him in charge, Jack defers to The Doctor, and then The Doctor tells them to do what Jack said in the first place. Classic! In this episode the trio gel very well together and it makes you wonder what a full series with Jack as a companion would have looked like. The only downside to Boom Town is that Mickey is still in his whiny, annoying stage, but Annette Badland’s exquisite performance as a Slitheen in a body suit more than makes up for it.
#2 Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
Captain Jack is many things and each of these episodes highlight a different facet of his character. You want funny and flirty Jack. Might I recommend Bad Wolf. His time in this killer robot makeover show is just comedy gold. And yes Jack, we don’t want to know where you were hiding that blaster on your naked body.
But if you’re more in the mood for take action soldier Jack, then The Parting of the Ways should be your fish fingers and custard. While the Doctor was mocking Daleks, doing his scientific fiddling, weighing morality and saving Rose, Jack was leading an ad how strike team and pouring lead into those stinking salt shakers. Sure it was very ineffective strike team but the Captain was still very inspiring. And when it was time for him to go out, he went out like a boss. That is until Bad Wolf Rose made him immortal. But yeah, this two-parter delivers two shades of Jack for the price of one story. That’s a bargain if you ask me.
#1 The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Sometimes you hit the bullseye with your first arrow. Strike gold with your first dig. Defeat the end game boss on your first try. Okay, that is more than enough metaphors. I say all that to say that this two-parter is not only one of the best stories in the franchise (that’s both Classic and Modern/Nu Who) but also the best Captain Jack appearance. From the first time we meet him checking out Rose’s but while she’s hanging from a blimp (typical Jack there) to his final moment in the TARDIS this is just pure unadulterated entertainment.
Jack’s wooing of Rose is a good time and the sonic-device measuring with The Doctor is just so much fun. John Barrowman just overflows with charisma here and as he danced with Rose he waltzed into the hearts of many fans and built a Summer house there. And you have Jack being fantastic in a fantastic setting in service of an even more fantastic story. That is a lot fantastic right there. Sounds like someone needs a thesaurus for Christmas. Anywho, when it comes to Captain Jack Harkness appearances in Doctor Who nothing comes close to his pitch perfect performance in masterpiece that is The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.
So that’s my list. What’s your favourite Captain Jack appearance. For my Top 6 Doctor Who Characters that Deserve a Comeback you can click here. And to check out our Doctor Who archive you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.